Amollo: Florida A&M needs to address grave hazing charges

Benson Amollo

Robert Champion, the 26-year-old drum major at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, did not deserve the death he received. In the words of his bereaved mother, Pam Champion, no parent deserves that chilling news. In other words, Champion’s death — reportedly a result of hazing — is inexcusable.

That a college student succumbs to death for no fault of his or her own is soul-numbing, to put it mildly. And to the stretch that the administration of Florida A&M has instituted internal mechanism to look into the matter — a rather dress rehearsal enveloped in a clever denial of guilt — already demonstrates the culpability of the school. It is for this reason that it is equally gratifying that the parents have sought legal redress even though Champion is gone and will forever be gone.

Hazing, an oriental European practice emanating from greek sororities — an inclusion ritual popular in the medieval times — has been attributed to Champion’s death. So far, FAMU has sent the band director packing and imposed an indefinite ban on the band from any future performances. In other words, the university has acknowledged some fault or rather responsibility over the matter even as it painstakingly sought to attribute this tragic happening to an accident.

For a school that prides itself on a tradition of parades, the sorority practice — a ritual gesture of inclusion — should not have been lost on the band director or the school administration. It is annoyingly careless on the part of the university to say the least, to have stood by all the while as this backward practice reared its ugly head whose epitome is a tragic ending to a promising future.

Highly regrettable and “we bear responsibility” are but the words that FAMU finds difficult to let out because there is a “weakness” in admitting a wrong. After all, in a world where reputation, numbers and positions are all that count, who wants to let go? Who cares about the death of a family’s only son, whose love for music has earned him an untimely passing leaving behind a cloud of devastation to a family that had overly rallied behind his passion for drums? While in the conscience of the school, protecting the image would be golden, someone somewhere wants justice. Someone somewhere cares. Someone somewhere outside of Champion’s family would want to know why. Just why would an institution knowingly or unknowingly abet practices so calamitous to learners?

Like the Champions and their family lawyer have put it, the decision to seek justice for their son’s careless death isn’t about them. It isn’t about Champion; it is a collective pursuit to curtail any would-be repeated incidents of this magnitude. It is a courageous step to face the reality of a loss by insulating the rest of us who might fall prey to the same tomorrow. It is a sincere step by a people who, unlike most of our learning institutions today, are persuaded that the rot that schools are unwilling to address are not limited to a given school — they cut across.

It is for that core reason that justice must be delivered to this family. Their kind of justice will go a long way to offer this society some historical lessons on the things taken at face value: that institutions of higher learning should be the harbingers of the attachment of values to any practices among young learners.

The given steep costs of higher education offers a transaction that demands both parties to meet their full share of the bargain. While the school would obligate students to meet their tuition expenses, schools in the same inkling would undoubtedly guarantee not just the value of the investment by offering learning, but also assure the student’s well-being within the window of the transaction the given years for a degree program. It is the assurance that also by extension offers parents and sponsors of students the hope that higher education isn’t a misplaced venture.

Therefore, the charges of hazing in Robert Champion’s death are gravely serious. FAMU in this affair is gravely complicit. The parents of Champion are gravely devastated. It is thus a sorry example of how not to honor a transaction. It is a classic case of failure by contempt. FAMU failed a family and a young man that gave it their heart and soul. Robert was away this past Thanksgiving from the family dinner table from where they would be watching the FAMU band. He was the greatest fan of his school and what he did for his school — he was able to win his entire family to the court of his love: drumming for FAMU.

As we wait for the legal courts to live true to the wheels of justice, this should be a learning opportunity for schools. School administrations must be involved in the lives of students and what they do. Schools must do much to make students aware of the histories behind every practice they embrace and the potential consequences.